Excerpt: The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green
The dragon came with the first new moon of spring. Everything was still wet, muddy, and half-frozen, which was what saved the village from burning down when the beast passed by overhead. It raked them twice that first visit, spouting a stream of blue-orange fire from its fanged jaws before banking out of sight over the forest. It left panic and soot in its wake. Those houses roofed in thatch were too damp to burn but it was three hours before the few buildings topped with pricier wooden shingles finally stopped smoldering.
Less than an hour after that, messages were heading with all possible haste to the surrounding towns to spread the word that Styesville had a dragon problem and shining knights were needed.
When help finally came, it wasn’t the shining knight that was expected. There was no clanking armor, no noble steed, no razor-sharp sword of peerless steel. There was no unfurled banner, no shield with heraldic device, no panting squire trailing on a trusty pony. There wasn’t even a lone knight-errant with dented helm and rusting chainmail plodding up the road on a boney, graying gelding. Instead there was just a shabby figure in a long patched cloak come walking into town on its own two feet. It bore a scarf wrapped thick against the damp evening chill, boots well-worn and trailing mud, and a much-mended pack that weighed its shoulders into a round stoop. Little wonder then that no one in Styesville noticed that help was here at last; little wonder that few noticed the traveler at all.
Ordinarily such a small, off-the-beaten-path village would have made much of any new arrival, even one so shabby, but these days they were focused more on their dragon than on gossip from distant places. Since the newcomer clearly had not come to rid them of their fire-breathing pest, being neither clanking nor shining nor even visibly armed, few of the villagers who had gathered in the smoky inn that evening paid the new arrival any mind, preferring to complain about their own winged problems over asking after whatever troubles might be plaguing any of their neighbors
Those complaints were punctuated by the sympathetic thumps of mugs and tankards and the occasional epithet spat contemptuously in the direction of the low fire smoldering in the hearth. Spring nights in Styesville were damp and chill, and Solm the innkeeper had learned long ago that people who were comfortable—or mayhap even a little over-warm—bought more drinks than people who were shivering. It was worth the effort of him chopping extra wood, or the expense of paying someone else to deliver fresh logs every day, for the increase of sales. Since it had yet to be burned down, the inn was one of the few places prospering under the dragon’s eyes, although Solm was careful not to ever mention that fact and, indeed, took care to supply a free round of drinks every now and then as an expression of his sympathies toward the rest of Styesville. When the general griping about the dragon turned more personal as the evenings lengthened, both Solm and his wife, Myam, often took the precaution of retiring early before anyone could notice that trade at the small inn had more than doubled since the dragon’s arrival. They did the same this night, and left their daughter in charge of serving the room while they excused themselves from the discussion. After a brief period of morose reflection, it was starting to get noisy again.
“I lost three goats yesterday—three!”
“Aye, but two of ’em had just run off on account of being afeared of the thing. Found them in my garden three hours later, didn’t you?”
“That’s not the point, and I paid you fair trade for all the tomatoes they trampled—”
“I’m just saying shingles is supposed to be better than thatch. It costs more don’t it? It’s not right when a person scrimps and saves to be able to afford the best only to have some—some big lizard come around and turn the edges into charcoal while them with thatch don’t suffer more than a bit of smoke. It’s not fair.”
“Oh yes? And what are we going to do when summer comes ’round, eh? When everything’s dry as tinder-boxes and a thatched-roof will go up in flame at the first hint of a spark? Bet we’ll all wish we could afford shingles then.”
“Surely we won’t still be beset by this beast by summertime!”
“Do you see anyone come to help us? Face it, Jak, unless you’ve a princess or a duchess on hand to give away—or a glittery pile of gold at the least—knights have better places to waste their time and adventures than some dung-heap cluster of huts that can’t muster more than a few sheep and some shillings for a reward. The dragon will grow bored with our ashes long before we see any knights come riding up that road to save us.”
The miller’s bitter statement was met by outraged protests but none that carried much conviction.
The stranger settled in at the corner of the room farthest away from the hearth and the cluster of disgruntled villagers sitting around it and rapped politely on the wooden counter to get the attention of the young woman cleaning mugs. She looked away from the discussion with a guilty start, her curls bouncing, then hurried over. “Good eve sir, begging your pardon! It’s not often we get travelers here and sometimes I think that lot would just as soon serve theyselves and—well, what can I get for you?”
The stranger’s heavy pack thumped against the wooden floor as it was set down; something inside clanged metallically. “I’ll take a mug of whatever you recommend, and a bit of supper, please.”
The young serving-maid nodded amiably enough but her expression was dismayed. “I’m afraid your choices are ale or mead, nothing fancy, unless you want to try an early-press cider. As for supper, it’s either stew or pie. We mostly serve bachelors what don’t want to be troubled with cooking for themselves,” she explained apologetically, “or a few of the old folks what would rather eat here than deal with all the grandkids underfoot at home, that sort of thing. We don’t see a lot of proper visitors in these parts. Maybe a few deep-woods hunters or trappers or the odd wandering bard passing through on their way to more interesting parts now and again, but little else. There’s not much need ’round here for fancy foods or diverse menu options and more’s the pity about that, sir.”
The stranger’s hood hid everything but the prow of a long nose sticking out over that loose scarf like a ship’s figurehead, but a chuckle emerged from the cloth-shrouded depths, followed by a question: “What’s in the pie?”
“Potato,” was the quick reply. “And cheese and herbs and spring onions. Some peas, but they was dried, so they don’t add much taste – leastways not in my opinion they don’t.”
“I shall try the pie. And the cider. Thank you.”